• Teachers’ Intellectual Property

    At gatherings of fellow educators, our discussion inevitably drifts towards the topic of the professional training of teachers. Many of them feel that teachers are often passive and reluctant to go for training (“If the management wants me to go, then I’ll go”).

    I do not have any grand schemes for motivating teachers. What I prefer to do, whenever I share about my school’s growth and development with my teachers, is to illustrate my thoughts using the concept of the ‘intellectual property of teachers’.

    Let us begin by understanding what is meant by the term, ‘intellectual property’. It generally covers the rights of all intellectual endeavours, including all kinds of inventions (industrial and technological patents) and creative work (copyright). Intellectual property within the education sector should include educational concepts, curricula, teaching materials, and pedagogical strategies developed by an educational institution. It should also consist of the knowledge, experience, curricula developed, teaching materials and teaching aids, teaching strategies and methods, as well as the values and beliefs of the teachers. Thus, all teachers, especially the more senior ones, would have accumulated their personal cache of intellectual property throughout their teaching lives.

    However, not many in the teaching profession are aware of their rights to education, as their experience and methods are often latent in nature. For example, if a teacher stands before you, there is no way you could know of her treasure trove of teaching experiences accumulated over 30 years. However, once she starts teaching a class, you would be able to tell instantly. Thus, the act of ‘teaching’ becomes the medium through which the latent experience is manifested. There are other mediums such as sharing sessions, speeches given at education seminars and workshops, publications of teachers’ thoughts on teaching, coaching of new teachers, etc. These are the means that enable teachers to discover the existence of their intellectual property and develop a sense of satisfaction and pride, as well as strengthen their professional confidence and self-esteem.

    Training can thus serve to enhance a teacher’s personal growth and intellectual property. The knowledge gained in the process should stay with him/her; it can never be taken away by a third party.

    The term, ‘intellectual property’, first appeared in the 19th century. It became widely used in the 1960s to denote value in the market economy. As monetary terms are often used as a measure of its value, related laws are then drawn up. With the commercialisation of education, in particular in the pre-school and adult education sectors, intellectual property in the education sector has also been monetised.

    But what exactly is education all about? What is its significance and value? Without a clear concept of these issues, teachers are likely to feel confused when dealing with their intellectual property.

    Let’s look to the history of the human race, philosophers from both the East and West, and great education masters for their views on education. In summary, they define education to be the process of developing the potential of the human being, leading one to achieve the apogee of one’s humanity, building up scientific intellect, moulding one’s moral fibre, etc. All these objectives are ultimately meant to enable human beings to attain a happy and fulfilling life. Since education contributes towards the survival of the human race, it is a public good, which is why governments are obliged to utilise public resources for the purpose of universal education.

    It is important to point out that the intellectual property of education is not the work of any single individual; rather, it is the fruits of labour, which have been accumulated over the generations. For instance, modern educationalists such as Germany’s Friedrich Wilhelm August Frobel, the US’ John Dewey, and China’s Tao Xingzhi have generously shared their views on education, hence benefiting many educators who were inspired to join the teaching profession.

    Moreover, without the support of educational institutions, there would be no teacher’s intellectual property to speak of. In fact, teachers and educational institutions enjoy a symbiotic relationship. By acknowledging that education is a public good, then intellectual property associated with education should be shared.

    Unfortunately, in our modern society, we have come to deem education as a commodity. As a result, the relationship between those who teach and those who are being taught has been transformed: parents and students turn into customers, instead of partners of the educational institutions. The latter no longer cares about the sustainability of education as a career, rather, they focus on running their entities like a business that could be expanded and franchised. The intellectual property of education such as the curriculum, teaching aids, and pedagogical strategies is then turned into products. Such a phenomenon is particularly striking in the fields of preschool and adult education.

    How do teachers who are keen to promote education share their ideas for the benefit of humankind in general, while preventing the commercialisation of their intellectual property in an environment that sees education as a business? This is an issue all teachers should think about. With the advent of Teachers’ Day, I would like to dedicate this article to all teachers, with best wishes for our endeavours.

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